After his remains were misidentified over 70 years ago, World War II pilot finally returns home
FILLEY — The body of Flight Officer Richard W. Lane spent the past 73 years buried on foreign soil.
On Thursday, his remains finally returned home to Gage County to a hero’s welcome.
“He treated me like I was made of gold, but I wasn’t,” said Marjory Ideus, Lane’s sister and only living relative who remembers Lane and who was at Thursday’s ceremony.
When she was presented an American flag by Wendell Lane, Richard Lane’s nephew, she grasped it close to herself, perhaps in the same way she would have held her brother.
“I said ‘Oh, my brother, I can hold him in my arms,’” Ideus said.
While she is happy he is home, she only wishes we here still alive.
The youngest of six children in the family, Ideus recalled wonderful memories of her brother. She said he was very smart and got A’s in his classes. She also talked about how well Richard Lane treated her and took care of her while their mother was working.
Richard Lane, who was born in Lincoln and lived in Gage County, died in combat on Dec. 27, 1944, during a World War II mission. He was co-piloting a B-17 bomber when it was shot down over Austria.
Richard Lane and two other crew members were buried in a single grave, along with another body unrelated to the crash.
Ultimately, it was a letter simply addressed to the “Lane Family” that would finally bring Richard Lane home.
“This letter came in dad’s mailbox,” Wendell Lane recalls. “My brother said, ‘Here, you take care of this.’”
The letter, dated Sept. 10, 2014, was from a Mr. Van Eyke who was investigating the remains of Pfc. Fred Ashley. Van Eyke had spent 23 years looking for the remains of Ashley, and he was certain the remains thought to be Richard Lane’s buried in Filley were actually Ashley’s.
“He said ‘I was searching here where he was buried and now I’m certain here that his remains are in the grave of your relative,’” Wendell Lane recalled. “This is when it got my attention — like wait a minute, how’s this working out?”
Van Eyke asked the Lane family to do their own investigating. The body left in Belgium did not match Ashley’s dental records, uniform, or the description of his death. The remains were checked in the 1950s and the body had on an Air Force uniform.
The American Graves Registration found four bodies in a grave near St. Florian Cemetery marked by a wooden cross that read “Howard Sampson-Richard Lane-Buddy Karnes.”
According to a report by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the four remains were transported to Nuremberg, Germany, where another unknown man killed in Czechoslovakia was buried next to the crew. The report states that the bodies were then moved in Aug. 1945 to St. Avold, France.
The body thought to be Richard Lane’s was buried in the Filley Cemetery in 1948. An unknown body was sent to the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium.
The letter said that the unidentified body in Belgium had one gold filling in the upper jaw, Ashley’s records said he had silver fillings. Van Eyke promised Ashley’s living sister he would find the remains of her brother. Van Eyke sent details about Ashley’s death in the hopes that the Lane family would have the body exhumed from Filley to be investigated.
A few months later, Wendell Lane received another letter from a Patrick Biddy with the 2nd Cavalry who was interested in finding Ashley, also a member of the 2nd Cavalry.
As Biddy was researching Ashley and found information on Richard Lane, the government got involved and, in 2016, Wendell Lane was asked to send in DNA samples from relatives.
“Then the Department of Defense sent me a DNA kit and at that time they wanted DNA from my dad, Lloyd and then my aunt Marjory,” Wendell Lane said.
He sent the samples to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Months later, in January 2018 they received word that the body in Belgium would be exhumed and moved to Offutt Air Force Base. The results came back in April that Ideus was a match to the Belgium remains now at Offutt.
“It was a 1/1200 match form his sister to him and they say once it’s over 1/800, why, they’re pretty positive, so this was a very very strong,” Wendell Lane said.
In June, the Lane family gave permission to exhume the grave previously thought to be his uncle’s in Filley Cemetery, and the remains were sent to Offutt to be investigated. It is unknown yet if the remains are Ashley’s.
The Lane family held a funeral service for Richard Lane on Thursday at Fox Funeral Home in Beatrice. Wendell Lane and Ideus were among those in attendance, as was Van Eyke, who spent the past week visiting Wendell Lane.
Richard Lane’s remains were escorted by a large group of American Legion Riders. Upon arrival to the cemetery, several spectators gathered to pay their respects to Lane and welcome his body to its final resting place.